Overview of SEO and Ethics
New Information technologies have had a dramatic impact on the methods people use to seek information. The internet has made people less dependent on traditional information seeking practices. Instead of seeking books or using the library information seekers are now more dependent on the internet and search engines to meet their information needs.
Since information on the internet remains relatively unfiltered, compared to traditional information seeking methods, internet users run the risk of finding and using unreliable information. Previously, traditional methods would provide filtered and mostly accurate information to users. People have to be wary of the information they retrieve because the average person does not understand the inner working of the technology involved with internet search functions such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an example of one of these technologies. SEO is a technical field within the realm of the internet that is concerned with improving the volume and quality of traffic for websites from search engines via search results. There are many techniques that can be employed in SEO strategies to get websites indexed and ranked. The strategies can be broken down into two categories; black hat SEO and White hat SEO.
While White hat SEO attempts to strictly follow search engine guidelines to get indexed, black hat SEO does not strictly follow these guidelines and because of this, is considered ‘unethical’ in many circles. In an attempt to legitimize the industry, the majority of white hat SEO’s have developed codes of ethics to distinguish themselves from the firms that use so-called unethical techniques and practices.
This eight article series is two-fold. First, it will examine the exclusive nature of search engine and SEO technology, and second, it will examine the legitimacy of the SEO codes of ethics that have been developed. To situate this argument within the context of current internet usage, the impact and effect of search engines on society will be examined as well.
The works of Lucas Introna and Philip Brey, specifically the tool view of technology (Introna) and disclosive ethics (Introna and Brey) will used as the theoretical framework to examine these technologies. These works will serve as the basis to situate SEO and search engines in an ethical context in order to determine whether SEO codes of ethics are legitimate or simply another technique used by SEO firms to appear legitimate, differentiate themselves from others, and use it as a marketing tool to sell their services.
The second part of this article series will examine the ethics debate within the SEO industry. Both sides of the equation (black and white hat) will be weighed to determine whether or not there is ethics in SEO or whether it is a technical matter only. Also to be examined will be the quest for legitimacy by SEO practitioners and an examination of the disclosive nature of the technology involved with SEO and its effects on search engines. The ethical codes of SEO firms will serve as a sample to examine the legitimacy of codes of ethics within the SEO industry.
This article series will identify a greater need to examine the ethics of SEO because of the restrictive nature of the technology and practices by SEO firms. There is a need to make internet users and website owners aware of the business practices and the technology involved with SEO and search engines. The work here has uncovered the lack of ethics claimed by white hat SEO firms and has set up a framework for further research into the closed technology of SEO and search engines via a disclosive ethics approach. There is also a need for further examination of SEO and search engines because internet users risk becoming more and more disconnected from the technological processes used to retrieve the information they seek if they are not informed of the technological processes involved with seeking information on the internet.